Steamboat Springs Aside from last year's scrimmage against Middle Park, Steamboat head coach Mark Drake says he knows nothing about the offense or defense of the 3A Panthers, whom the Sailors face tonight at 7 o'clock in their season-opener at home.
A pre-game tailgate party will start at 5:30 p.m. near the bleachers.
Middle Park runs a 4-3 defense, but the Panthers were without 10 starters on the defensive side coming into this season. Still, Jack Dugwyler, the Panthers head coach, said he is optimistic about his team's chances.
"We graduated a lot of size last year, but our younger guys coming up are better athletes," Dugwyler said. "They have better feet, better athletic ability. We feel maybe we're a little quicker, and have a little more athleticism."
Steamboat enters tonight's contest ranked No. 10 in the state in 3A, and the team would love nothing more than to start off the season on the right note. A victory for the Sailors would mean a small step toward their larger goal of making the state playoffs.
Wingback Derek Haverly, who also returns punts and kickoffs, could see limited time carrying the ball tonight, Drake said. Haverly pulled a groin muscle during last Saturday's scrimmage against West Grand, but was still slated as a starter Thursday.
Mark McCullough, who plays split end and defensive back, will miss tonight's game with a knee injury and offensive and defensive lineman Mike Radford could be ineligible, Drake said.
Still, the Sailors have strength on both sides of the ball, with Stewart Beall leading the way on offense at running back. JoJo Bucci brings experience to a young offensive line, but Bucci will be at guard tonight rather than his normal center position. Scott Middleton takes over the duties at center, until Radford is eligible, which would then send Bucci back to center.
The linebackers, Bucci, Blake Julian and Jamie McKelvie, are the anchors of the Sailors defense.
Dugwyler knows his team will have difficulties against the talented Sailors squad.
"It looks like they got a real strong defense on the inside," Dugwyler said. "There's a couple of great linebackers who try to get in the backfield and disrupt things.
"They're a good offensive running team," Dugwyler continued. "They're going to try to trap us and do all kinds of things inside. We know we're going to be tested strong on both offense and defense."
Players to watch for on the Panthers are Paul Box, wide receiver and cornerback, and defensive lineman Jesse Summers. But inexperience is a big obstacle for Middle Park, with 17 starters from last year lost to graduation.
While Drake knows little about Middle Park's players, Dugwyler is a bit fuzzy on how to prepare for Steamboat. The Panthers coach attended last week's scrimmage between Steamboat Springs and Summit High School, but had trouble drawing up a scouting report.
"We scouted them with their scrimmage against Summit, but we didn't get any numbers," Dugwyler said. The Sailors wore practice jerseys, which don't have names or numbers on them.
"Basically, we're looking forward to matching up with their backs and linebackers and seeing what they can do," Dugwyler said.
Meanwhile, Drake hopes that his team can seal an early victory this season, and also come out of the first game with no injuries. Drake said he wanted to use about 15 pass plays, depending on how well the running game goes and how many first downs the Sailors can accumulate.
"We would like to put the ball in the air," Drake said. "We would like to get (senior quarterback Rusty Eck's) confidence going."
Drake says his players are tired of banging on each other during summer workouts, and are anticipating a hard-fought game against the Panthers.
"I just hope that the kids will relax and go out there and play the kind of ball they're capable of playing," he said.
"We feel like we can win this ball game. We know we want to get off to the right start here."